The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 23, 2013

State in brief: Turnpike officials getting free cars

Associated Press

HARRISBURG — The four appointed members of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, whose main responsibility is to attend two meetings a month, receive salaries of at least $26,000, a no-limit expense account and a toll pass.

Oh, and free cars.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Wednesday that tollpayers bought commission Chairman William Lieberman a 2013 Jeep Cherokee for nearly $40,000 on Dec. 28.

Lieberman, a Pittsburgh insurance executive, handed down the 2012 model he got a year earlier to fellow Commissioner Pasquale “Pat” Deon. The other two commissioners, Michael Pratt and William Lincoln, drive 2011 Ford Explorers that cost $33,945 each.

State Transportation Department Secretary Barry Schoch is the fifth commission member. He does not receive a commission salary and, according to PennDOT, drives his own Chrysler 300.

Between Jan. 1, 2007, and Aug. 31, 2011, the turnpike spent $406,497 buying new cars for commissioners, $29,642 on fuel and $20,328 on maintenance. That excludes the cost of the new Jeep for Lieberman, whose salary as chairman is $28,500.

In contrast, the commissioners of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority get no free cars, no salaries, no free passes for tolls and no reimbursement for using their own vehicles, according to NJTA spokesman Thomas Feeney.

Corbett seeks money for disabled

PHILADELPHIA – Gov. Tom Corbett on Wednesday said he will ask the Legislature in his upcoming budget proposal to reallocate $20 million to provide more services for Pennsylvanians with intellectual disabilities.

The state needs to do a better job of helping people who are unable to care for themselves, Corbett said at Wednesday news conference at the United Way of Philadelphia.

In his budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year, he’s planning to request $20 million more than the $919 million that his administration said is being provided this year for programs that include day, home and community services for the mentally disabled.

Ex-special ed prof jailed for porn

PITTSBURGH – A former western Pennsylvania university professor who specialized in special education has pleaded guilty to federal child pornography charges.

Balazs Tarnai, 36, of Greensburg, pleaded guilty Wednesday to production of sexually explicit material and was sentenced to 15 years in prison and lifetime probation, according to his attorney, Alexander Lindsay Jr.

Tarnai was charged in November 2011 with possessing child pornography after federal investigators said they found eight videos of two neighborhood boys using the bathroom in his home. Last year, federal prosecutors added charges that Tarnai made videos and photos of four young boys engaged in sexual conduct in 2008 and 2009.

Tarnai had previously said he intended to fight the charges, but changed his plea.

Tarnai was suspended without pay from Seton Hill University in Greensburg when the initial charges were filed. Tarnai had also taught children’s Bible study classes at St. Vincent Basilica, but has been suspended from that program as well, according to the Catholic Diocese of Greensburg.

Faculty union to demonstrate

HARRISBURG – The union representing faculty at Pennsylvania’s 14 public universities plans to demonstrate to protest what the union said are stalled contract talks.

Patrick Burkhart, president of Slippery Rock University’s union chapter, told the Butler Eagle the demonstration will happen during today’s board of governors meeting for the State System of Higher Education.

The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties said the state system is expected to offer a new comprehensive proposal before negotiations on Feb. 1.

Union members have been working without a contract since June 2011. They have authorized their leadership to call a strike if necessary, while state system officials have pledged to rein in rising educational costs.

Boy held in killing over cigarette

BEAVER FALLS – A 14-year-old western Pennsylvania boy has been ordered to stand trial on charges he fatally shot a woman after she told him to “get a job” when he tried to bum a cigarette off her boyfriend.

Marcus Velasquez, of Beaver Falls, was held for court after a preliminary hearing Tuesday.

Two other boys, aged 14 and 13, who were allegedly with him when he shot 22-year-old Kayla Peterson, are being tried in juvenile court.

Investigators say the teens followed Peterson’s boyfriend home and yelled profanities after he ignored their requests for a cigarette. Velasquez allegedly shot Peterson when she confronted the youths as her boyfriend arrived home.

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